Tag: family

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (9781101994856, Amazon)

The author of Wolf Hollow returns with her second novel for young people.  This is a novel of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts where Crow has lived all of her life. She lives on a solitary island with Osh, the man who found her afloat in a little boat when she was a newborn baby.  The others on the islands won’t associate with Crow, since they all assume that she came from a nearby island that was a leper hospital. Miss Maggie is the exception, she cares fiercely for Crow and makes sure that she learns what she needs to despite not being able to attend school. As Crow starts to piece together her own history, she exposes those she loves to new dangers that are far worse than the storms of nature they weather together.

Wolk once again has created a novel that brings a place to life. Here she has chosen the Elizabeth Islands and the islands themselves feature prominently in the story both in terms of their isolation but also in their beauty. The islands serve as shelter, home, a source of fuel and food, and a community as well. The island with the hospital for lepers insures that Crow is even more isolated than the rest of the community due to the questions of her past. It’s a brilliant setting, one of the best that I have ever read where each page is a reflection of the sea and the islands.

Crow is a dazzlingly great heroine. She is strong and independent, determined to figure things out even as those around her give up. She pieces together clues from the mystery of her past, a mystery that permeates the entire novel even after it is solved. Crow is anxious to learn of her history and throughout the novel explores questions of identity and family of love and betrayal. It’s a novel that swirls and eddies, displaying beauty and dangers in turn.

This is a beautifully written and deep novel for middle grade readers who will long to visit Crow’s island themselves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.

 

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson (9781481449663, Amazon)

Ozzie is the only one who remembers his boyfriend Tommy. He’s known Tommy since they were young children and they started dating in middle school. Now though, no one remembers that Tommy existed, including Ozzie’s family, his friends, and Tommy’s parents. Ozzie has figured out that the universe is shrinking around him, erasing people like Tommy from existence and rearranging history as if they were never there. Meanwhile, Ozzie’s world continues to change. His best friend Lua is becoming a rock star, his brother is headed to basic training, and his parents’ marriage is breaking up. One bright spot in Ozzie’s life is Cal, a confusing boy he is paired with for a physics project but the feelings developing between them complicate his ongoing search for Tommy.

This book sweeps you up, whisks you into Ozzie’s world and you believe, oh my, do you believe. Even though it’s impossible, questionable, and strange, you are along for the ride and the wonder of it all. This is because the emotions are so strong and real, the terror of life changing and the lack of control, the love between people that survives even though one is gone, the joy of new connections and friends. It’s all there, exactly what young readers are experiencing themselves but shown in a way that no one has seen before.

While Ozzie may believe the universe is shrinking, readers will question that right up to the end. What they won’t question is the world that Hutchinson has created here, filled with vibrant characters that you want to love and befriend. The LGBT themes are strongly written and beautifully presented. While the main character is gay, his friends are just as diverse. Lua is gender variant, striking and dramatic, changing pronouns with outfits. Other characters are asexual, presented in just the same frank and unquestioning way. LGBT characters in the book talk about sex, have sex, explore sex. It’s all brilliantly normal in a book that is anything but.

This is a book you must read to completely understand it. I hope you find it just as compelling and wondrous as I did. Enjoy! Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington

catching-a-story-fish-by-janice-n-harrington

Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (InfoSoup)

Moving away from Alabama is hard for Keet. She is moving closer to her beloved grandfather though, which helps. The two of them spend days together fishing, something that Keet used to find challenging because she loves to talk and tell stories. But at her new school, she is teased for her accent and suddenly her words start to dry up. She finds it hard to make friends and even at home she isn’t talking much. Slowly though, Keet starts to find her voice again and makes a new friend. Just as she starts to talk though, her grandfather suffers a stroke and struggles with the slow recovery. Keet though has just the solution, showing him the way forward with stories.

Harrington’s verse novel is pure loveliness. Throughout she plays with various poetic forms, delicately moving from haiku to concrete poems to narrative form with many others included too. She nicely lists them at the end of the book, talking about their difficulty and what makes a poem that form. Her skill is evident throughout with all of the forms as she tells the story of Keet and her progress from losing her confidence and her voice to finding it again. The voice of Keet’s new friend is including in the poems as well, often playing against ones in Keet’s voice.

The characters here are given time to grow and stretch on the page. Keet is a wonderful character filled with a great energy and drive, but also stuck in a lack of confidence that hits her out of nowhere. It is a book about quiet and both its power and the ability to drown in being silenced. It is a book about friendship, about family and the importance of finding your place and your voice.

Beautifully written and strikingly gentle, this book is a celebration of the individual and their ability to speak their own stories. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

ghosts of tupelo landing

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Return to the world of the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky in this follow-up novel.  Mo and Dale continue to run their Desperado Detective Agency but the mysteries have gotten smaller.  Then an old inn goes up for sale and Miss Lana, Mo’s guardian, accidentally purchases it.  That’s when it is discovered that that inn comes with a resident ghost.  Now it is up to Dale and Mo to figure out why the ghost is haunting the inn, something they also manage to make into a homework assignment to do double duty.  But the mystery of the ghost is tied up in other secrets in Tupelo Landing, secrets that have been kept for decades but that must be revealed to solve this mystery.

Returning to Tupelo Landing was immediately like being reunited with friends.  There was catching up to do, but it was easy and warm right from the beginning.  Turnage’s writing is rich and layered.  She excels at descriptions, creating analogies that are surprising and constantly original.  Here in Mo’s voice is a description of Lavender, the boy she plans to marry eventually:

Lavender has eyes blue as October’s sky and hair like just-mown wheat.  He’s wiry and tall, and flows like a lullaby.

All of your favorite characters from the first book are back again.  There are the Colonel and Miss Lana, continuing to figure out their relationship while running a restaurants whose theme changes every night.  There is Grandmother Miss Lacy whose funding saves Miss Lana and the inn, but who may be dealing with secrets of her own.  There is even the scary Red Baker who may be closer to the ghost than anyone else.  There is even one complex new character who takes time to learn about because his secrets are held very close.  And then of course there are Mo and Dale, the two detectives at the heart of the story and who give the story its heart.

Funny, heartfelt and memorable, this sequel is just as good as the award-winning original.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Group.

Review: A Certain October by Angela Johnson

certain october

A Certain October by Angela Johnson

Johnson continues to write powerful books in a short format.  Here we meet Scotty, a teenage girl who thinks of herself as rather bland, like tofu.  The people around her seem more vibrant and complex like her little brother who has autism and enjoys trains, being naked, and eating cookies.  Her best friends too seem to be more interesting to Scotty.  Then in October everything changes because of a train accident.  Scotty’s little brother is injured severely and another boy is killed. Scotty feels responsible for both of them, though she barely knew the other boy.  This is a story that takes the small details of life and then shows how a single event can tear through, changing life forever.

Johnson writes like a poet, using unique symbolism to make her points.  Scotty sees herself as tofu, bland until someone else adds flavor.  Readers though will immediately understand that that is how Scotty views herself, not how the she actually is.  Instead Scotty is an intriguing mix of teen angst, intelligence, and a big heart. 

Johnson writes her characters in real life.  They all read as real people, not even the parents becoming stereotypical.  The teen boys are just as human as the main character, treating the girls with respect and friendship.  It’s a refreshing change to see male secondary characters who are more than a stereotype too.  When Scotty is grieving, the power of family and friendship together is obvious.

With its dynamic cover and short length, this book is sure to be picked up by teen readers.  Here they will find a strong heroine who is intensely and utterly real.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell

second life of abigaiil walker

The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Abby has always been on the outskirts of her group of friends, considered the fat one who could be teased endlessly about her weight.  She has to be careful not to give her real opinion and to always toe the line set by the group leader.  Privately, she considers them to be “medium girls” and nothing special, but they are her friends.  As Abby starts to investigate the abandoned lot across from her house, she gets gently bitten by a fox.  It is from that point on that she is no longer content to be a medium girl herself.  Following the fox and then a dog, Abby discovers a creek she never knew was in her neighborhood and then a farm on the other side.  A boy lives there with his grandmother and his father who is recovering from battle in Afghanistan.  As their friendship grows, Abby gains self confidence and is able to give a lot back too. 

This book had me from the very first page.  Told from the point of view of the fox, the first short chapter invites readers to speaks to the power of story, the role of fabled characters in our lives, and moments when the real world and myths intertwine.  It sets the stage perfectly for what is to come.  This is a realistic story that has magic and myth moments.  The writing is outstanding, bringing magic into our world through empty lots filled with weeds, foxes who live in urban settings, edges of suburbs, and newfound friends.

Abby is a great character.  She is chubby and ridiculed for it by not only her friends but her parents.  Yet she has a quiet strength, an underlying confidence, that allows her to withstand those opinions and grow into the person she really is.  She is a wonderfully normal child, not the brightest, not the strongest, but one who is willing to see beyond the weeds to the flowers.

This is a radiant book that celebrates the quiet, the mythical, the connections that are too often missed in our rush.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.